Revelation – the end…or the beginning… Rev 7 – Heavenly Intermission
When was the last time you looked up at the stars? That’s a great activity-especially in the summer or fall-you’re outside, the crickets are chirping and you look up and see that vast array of twinkling stars spread out across the sky-pic. Maybe you try to identify some particular stars-Polaris or Betelgeuse-or some constellations Gemini or the Seven Sisters or everyone’s favorite the Big Dipper. Or who’s tried really hard to see the constellations but you can’t no matter how hard you try? Yes-I see it-no, not really! Here’s Orion-and I wish the constellations identified themselves like this-wouldn’t that be useful! Or maybe you’ve been fortunate enough to see the Milky Way streaking across the sky-pic-man meets milky way. Anybody seen that? I’ve faintly seen it a couple of times-but to do that you have to get far away from any city or town, far away from light pollution-so doing that on Long Island can be challenging. Some of the best places in the country for stargazing are very remote-Bryce Canyon in Utah, Denali National Park in Alaska and Glacier National Park in Montana. I would love to go those places and see the stars and the Milky Way sparkling overhead-and maybe some of you have. But here’s a trivia question -how many stars are in the Milky Way? Do you have any idea? It’s not an easy question for scientists to answer-as getting an arial view of the Milky Way is a little hard to obtain from our limited perspective on earth as it stretches out and then bulges in the center-but scientists estimate about 100 billion stars are contained within our Milky Way galaxy-and of course there’s millions and millions of other galaxies out there. So our night time sky is filled with stars-and the task of counting them would be rather difficult to say the least.
But the reason I bring this up is because God did ask someone to count the stars once. If you go back to the beginning of your Bibles, God made a promise to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. So from this one man and his wife-Abraham and Sarah-God would establish an entire nation of people. There was only one problem-Abraham and Sarah didn’t have any kids. Listen to what Abraham says in Gen 15:2-5. And I love that scene-because here’s Abraham on the desert plains, heading outside to do some stargazing with God on a summer’s night-Abraham, I want you to count up all the stars you see, how many are there? And do you know what the answer is? Scientists today are better equipped to answer that question than Abraham was that night-and so with our human eyes there’s about 3,500-4,500 stars we can see. So Abraham could have said that to God. He didn’t-and I don’t think God was expecting an actual number-Let me see, Lord, I need some paper to start jotting this down-give me a moment. No-for all practical purposes we can’t count the stars in the sky-the answer is innumerable. And that was the point God was trying to make with Abraham-from you will come a nation, a people that is innumerable. And that’s precisely what we’re going to see this morning in our Bibles. We’re going to see the fulfillment of this promise to Abraham with an innumerable group of people gathered together in the presence of God. And like we’ve done the last few weeks in this series-we’re going from Genesis to Revelation, seeing how Scripture is one big story, one cohesive whole from start to finish.
So open your Bibles to Rev 7 or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 7:1-3. So this is a pause-an intermission-between the 6th and 7th seals of judgement that Jesus has unleashed upon the world when He opened the scroll. And when the 4 angels are told not to harm the earth and sea you might think that sounds a bit too late! That what we’ve been reading these past 2 weeks is precisely the descriptions of the earth and sea being harmed-where we finished off last week with the 6th seal in which there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black, the moon blood red, the stars fell to the sky, the mountains crumbled and the islands sunk in the sea. It was a scene of destruction and chaos with people trying to hide inside caves-so hasn’t the harm already happened? Yes-but this is an intermission between the 6th and 7th seals because as we’ll see in the weeks to come the 7th seal releases the 7 trumpets of God’s judgement of which the 7th trumpet releases the 7 bowls of God’s wrath-so there’s a lot more destruction to come-things are just getting started-but today we’re studying the intermission. And maybe it’s been a while-but what do you do during an intermission of a Broadway show or a concert? Maybe you stand up, stretch your legs, go get some refreshments-but most likely you’re thinking-What a 1st half-the music, the sets, the story, the action was amazing-can’t wait for the second half! That’s sort of the opposite here! The first half of the Tribulation has been quite a first half unlike anything the world has ever seen-but people aren’t eager for the 2nd half to begin-a quarter of the population was wiped out, no one wants to be around when things literally go from bad to worse. And do you remember the lingering question from last week? We just mentioned that people were running in fear to the caves-what was it they said? How did Act 1 of the Tribulation end before the intermission? Look at Rev 6:16-17. That was the question people were asking-and they weren’t asking it with a great desire to hear the answer-Lord, your wrath has come and we’re all hiding out in this cave wondering who can stand and survive your wrath? Can you let us know, we’re curious? No-not at all! This question is asked out of total fear and panic-Let the mountains and rocks and boulders fall down and crush us-because who can stand? No one! We’re doomed!
They are utterly and completely hopeless. And yet for believers, this intermission provides a great answer to that ominous question. Who can stand in the day of God’s wrath? The answer isn’t no one-the answer is those who’ve been saved and sealed by the living God. And there’s 2 aspects to this-the first is focused here on earth. Look back at the intermission-Rev 7:3-4. So this is describing a group of redeemed Jews who’ve come to Christ and been saved during the Tribulation. And now they bear God’s mark on them, His identifying stamp, His seal saying you are mine. And while that might not sound very plausible-that that many Jews would turn to Jesus-God has never abandoned His people. A lot of Bible scholars believe this group of 144,000 across every tribe of Israel is what Paul was talking about in Rom 11:25-27. That’s always been the way of salvation-that through Jesus our sins are taken away. And now this has been applied in a magnificent way to Israel who has rejected Jesus for so long-that 144,000 Jewish people across all 12 tribes will be saved in the end times once that number of Gentile believers has been fulfilled. And look at how vividly this is described-Rev 7:5-8-and it goes on to list every tribe. And I love this thought because it reinforces the point that God never, ever abandons His people. Not the nation of Israel, not you and me. We can run from Him, hide from Him, even reject Him as the nation of Israel has done for so long, but when God’s saving grace shows up we are transformed! And that’s the idea of what God is going to do with the nation of Israel in the Tribulation-they will be transformed to know Him, serve Him, and be His witnesses having been sealed by Him. A seal is like the signet ring of the king who presses his image onto wax melted on a letter. This letter is from me, signed by me, it bears my mark. Back to the question-Pt1:Who can stand in the day of God’s wrath? All who are signed and sealed by Him. When you put your faith in Jesus your heart is sealed. Nothing can change or alter that truth. You forever belong to the Lord and are protected by Him because of His abiding presence. Look at Eph 1:13.
Or there’s a great OT passage that describes how God protects His people-Isa 43:1-3a, 10-12. And you can see how that’s true for us today-but also the redeemed nation of Israel during the Tribulation. The 144,000 will be God’s witnesses to the world, they will point out that He alone is savior. And that’s always been God’s plan for Israel-to be the light of truth to the nations. And this will finally happen in the last days as they go through all the trials of the Tribulation. God will be with them because they belong to Him. Back to Pt1. I’m reminded of that great Stevie Wonder song-Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours. That’s what God is saying to Israel-His people have been signed and sealed by His name, they’ve been delivered by Him from their sins, they are His. And because of that many will come to faith in Jesus through their witness.
And we see the results as we encounter the second group of people who can stand in the day of God’s wrath. And while the 144,000 Jews are standing for the Lord here on earth, this next group is standing for the Lord in heaven. Take a look at Rev 7:9. So while the Tribulation is a time of great judgement, it’s also a time of great spiritual renewal and revival! Isn’t that always the way-that during the times of greatest difficulty, God brings about the greatest spiritual growth in His people. So here’s this crowd who’s come to faith and trusted in Jesus during the Tribulation-they didn’t give in to the world or succumb to fear or throw in the towel, instead they looked to their only source of hope beyond this world-that being Jesus. So now here they are in heaven-this huge crowd of people-and what’s the first thing John mentions about them? They’re a great multitude that no one could number! It’s too big, too vast, too spread out like the stars in the sky! Back to our pic. That’s the visual representing this innumerable crowd of people-all those stars! So the very thing God said to Abraham at the beginning of our Bibles is now fulfilled at the end of our Bibles! Look back-Gen 15:5. And physically that referred to the nation of Israel which would come from Abraham through his son Isaac through his son Jacob and on to the 12 tribes. But now we see in Revelation God has once again used the nation of Israel, all 12 tribes being sealed to be His witnesses, and the result is this innumerable crowd of people who’ve come to faith in Jesus, being as vast as the stars in the sky and all called the family of God.
Here’s a few more verses that explain this-Rom 4:13-being a part of Abraham’s family was a spiritual reality that came through faith in Christ. So Gal 3:7-it’s the same idea. This huge family that stared with Abraham, this innumerable crowd represented by all those stars he saw that night all share the same faith in Christ-Gal 3:29. That promise started on that starry, starry night with Abraham and it’s fulfilled around God’s throne in Rev 7 with all who’ve put their faith in Christ. Back to-Rev 7:9. And that includes you and me! I love the idea that if you’ve put your faith in Christ, then one of those stars in the sky that Abraham saw that night represented you! The innumerable stars back then pointed to the innumerable scope of God’s family in eternity which includes you if you’ve trusted in Jesus the Lamb. Maybe you remember that old Christian singer Rich Mullins who tragically died in a car accident on his way to a concert back in 1997. And if he hadn’t died we’d still be singing his songs today-this crowd is probably singing his songs in heaven! But one of his best songs was called Step by Step-Oh God you are my God, and I will ever praise you. But there was a line in that song where he said-Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. And that’s so true! As a believer in Christ there was a star lit for you, a star lit for me, a star lit for all who are or will be a part of God’s family.
Now historically and culturally we are so different and far removed from Abraham-he was a nomad who journeyed in the desert-but God’s family is all about people who are very different from one another. Notice how John is really emphasizing the diversity. He didn’t just say it was an international or multi-ethnic group but he said a multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language. We’re talking about a comprehensive crowd from every corner of the globe, every sort of people group and language on the planet, even the smallest and most obscure tribes are there. And here’s the point this is making-there isn’t one nation that better describes Christianity, or one culture that better represents what it means to be a Christian, instead Christ impacts every nation and culture and people group and transforms them all to become His people. And look at what this diverse multitude has in common, look at the one thing that unites them-Rev 7:10. Many many voices, all with different accents, and even different languages, are all loudly singing with one voice-Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! That fact, the glorious good news of the gospel, is what brings all of God’s diverse people together in unified praise. So Pt2:Who can stand in the day of God’s wrath? All who are saved by the blood of the Lamb-our Shepherd. Without the blood of the Lamb, without Jesus’ blood being poured out for us-we’re not standing before the throne. If Jesus didn’t come to this earth and give up His life for us on the cross, then we’re just like that group of people hiding in the caves hoping that the rocks will crush us and put us out of our misery. But because of Jesus everything is different and we have the hope of standing in His presence.
Look at Rev 7:13. He’s asking John-who is this huge, gigantic, innumerable group? And obviously he knows but he wants to make sure John understands, because ultimately John is writing this down for us so that we understand. And I love how John sort of pitches the ball right back to him-Rev 7:14a. Have you ever responded to your teacher that way? They ask you a question in class-and you answer by saying-I don’t know-but you do, you’re the teacher-why are you asking me? Wouldn’t that be great! Now you might get in trouble for answering that way in school-but John is saying to one of the elders-You’ve got to spell this out for me-because I want to know who they are. And the elder does and says it beautifully-Rev 7:14b. These are believers who have had to endure all sorts of troubles and trials, suffering and struggles-the great tribulation-and many scholars believe this is referring to that last 3.5 years of the Tribulation where the world is at its worst. But it’s not all that great right now-no doubt you have gone through plenty of troubles and trials in your life, lots of suffering and struggles-but that’s not where it ends. That’s not where it ends in this chapter, it’s not where it ends for you and me.
And that’s the title of this series in Revelation-the end…or the beginning… The end isn’t the great tribulation where we hide out in caves-instead it is this amazing truth that our robes-meaning who we are, our hearts, have been washed by the blood of Jesus so that we are made clean in Him. Our sins have been forgiven, our lives have been made new, all our guilt and shame is washed away so that we will one day stand in the Lord’s presence before the throne. One writer says-The Lamb took our filthy, soiled, ugly garments of sin and plunged them into His red, pure blood-His death-and miraculously and supernaturally they come out white, pure, and clean. I’m sure we’ve all gotten a cut, happens to me all the time especially when cooking or chopping vegetables-and you find yourself bleeding so that the blood drips onto your shirt or shorts or jeans and it stains them red-ruined that. When it comes to the gospel, Jesus’ blood isn’t what stains or ruins but instead what restores us and removes all stains-even the worst stains on our hearts that our sin has caused. There’s that great song we’re going to sing momentarily-What can wash away my sins-nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again-nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow, no other fount I know-nothing but the blood of Jesus. And that truth is what forever defines this innumerable crowd in heaven-Rev 7:14b. And that happens the moment you turn to the Lamb, the moment you turn to Jesus for salvation. Have you done that? Back to Pt2. This is the incredible part-Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who dies on our behalf, who becomes a sheep like us to take away our sins-but He’s also our Shepherd who loves us. Look at the last verse in the chapter-Rev 7:17. The Lamb who is the Shepherd. That is such a profound and paradoxical truth-but that is the truth of the gospel-and where have we heard it before? From the words of Jesus Himself-John 10:11.